Dutch Oven Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)
Slow-cooked in a dutch oven, this pulled pork recipe uses a wet rub of Mexican spices to deliver a smokey, savory, slightly sweet taste to carnitas perfect for tacos! Grab authentic flavors of Mexican Pulled Pork, minus the lard, from the comfort of your dutch oven. Make every day Taco Tuesday with this dish, Tortilla Lasagna, or taco chili!
The dutch oven outdoes itself yet again. This Mexican Pulled Pork recipe is perfect for Pork Enchiladas, Pork Tacos, and even a Pulled Pork Sandwich using homemade white bread! Whatever you eat it with, even if that’s just a fork, you’ll be sure to add this to the meal plan at least once per month.
What are carnitas?
Carnitas translated is small pieces of braised pork. This is what Americans would call pulled pork. It is traditionally, a large Boston butt that has been heavily seasoned and slow-cooked to the point of pulling apart effortlessly.
How to make Pulled Pork in the Dutch Oven
Slow-cooked pulled pork is similar to pulled pork prepared in a slow-cooker or instant pot.
- Start by making your rub. This can be a dry or wet rub. We chose a sweet, smokey, somewhat spicy homemade Mexican wet rub for this Boston butt.
- Dry your pork butt with a paper towel and score the fat typically found on one side of the pork.
- Massage the wet rub all over the pork and set aside at room temperature for as close to an hour as you can.
- Chop your onions or other vegetables for your base. You can also use peppers of all varieties, or carrots. In lieu of adding onion powder to the rub and searing, I simply placed the pork on onions in the dutch oven.
- To sear: Heat the dutch oven on the stove-top with a couple of tablespoons of bacon grease or oil, and sear the pork on all sides. Then remove, add your vegetables of choice, and slide into the preheated 225-250F oven with the lid on, onto the center rack.
- To skip searing: Preheat the oven to 225-250F, place your Boston butt in the dutch oven over the bed of vegetables with the lid on; slide the dutch oven into the oven on a center rack and start the timer.
Tips for creating the best pulled pork
- Let your pork sit at room temperature for an hour before cooking to ‘marinate’ in the rub.
- Cook your pulled pork to an internal temperature of 195F. This is a bit higher than typical but it assists in the collagen really breaking down and allowing the meat to be ‘fall off the fork’ tender.
- Low and slow is the name of the game. Set the oven for 225-250F and plan for 1-2 hours per pound with bone-in pork butt on the longer side of the 2 hours.
- Cook covered to maintain moisture and prevent burning, browning, or drying out.
- Always yield to the thermometer. While I allowed for 1-2 hours per pound, I did not need all the time I allotted. It was done a bit sooner than expected based on the thermometer reading. That’s okay. Always go with the thermometer or you’ll risk dried out pork!
- Cook fat side up. This is supposedly by preference and not science. I will say that I believe it stands to reason that as the meat is cooked, all that fatty, juicy goodness is going to go down, over, and into the pork because of gravity and heat. Just saying.
- Searing your meat is optional but can add a wonderful crunch, add an extra layer of caramelization, and help to retain the moisture.
How to store, freeze, and reheat pulled pork
Mexican pulled pork can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to five days. You can also vacuum seal it or store in a gallon freezer-safe Ziploc bag for up to three months. Just make sure to prep for freezing when the meat has cooled to room temperature and get all the air out that you can.
How to reheat and make crispy carnitas
To reheat the pulled pork from the freezer, remove it the night before and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. Once thawed, add 1-2 tablespoons of oil or grease to a skillet over medium-low heat and heat through. If you have some leftover dry rub, add a teaspoon in with some lemon juice to bring the flavors back to life.
How to serve Mexican Pulled Pork
Tacos, burritos, enchiladas, are always a favorite! I wish every day was Taco Tuesday. But here are some of my ALL TIME favorite ways to serve pulled pork plus a bonus drink pairing:
Dutch Oven Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)
- Cutting board
- chef's knife
- 2 yellow onions cut into eigths
- 6 pound Boston butt boneless or bone in
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 7.5 ounces Chili Peppers in Adobe seasoning canned
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano can substitute Italian oregano if needed
- 2 Tablespoons chili powder
- 2 Tablespoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons cayenne
- 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 Tablespoon sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 225-250F. Cut the two onions into 1/8ths. Layer one onion in the bottom of the dutch oven while setting the other onion to the side.
- Place the reserved onion, canned chilis, olive oil, and other seasonings into a food processor. Blend on high until a loose paste is formed.
- Pat the pork dry with a paper towel and score fat on one side with a sharp knife. Use your hands to massage the wet rub into the pork on all sides.
- Place in your dutch oven ontop of the onion slices (fat side up) and allow to rest at room temperature for as close to an hour as you can stand.
- Place in the oven on a center rack with the lid on. Cook for 1-2 hours per pound, until the internal temperature reaches 195F.
- Allow to rest 30 minutes upon removal from the oven and shred with two forks. Try not to eat it all on the spot and serve in your favorite Mexican dishes.
Simply delicious! As usual, Katie knocks it out of the park! My family will LOVE this!
I currently have this slow cooking in the CI in the oven.
I have 1/2 a hog, so I used one of the Hocks and the Shoulder for this. I used fresh Garlic and Ground the cloves myself. The spice mix is fabulous, flavorful and the aroma is perfect! I’ll let you know how it turns out.
It came out GREAT!! I’ve already passed it along to a friend!!! I’m definitely saving this recipe! Thanks
Looks fabulous and I always order the carnitas at Mexican restaurants but I think I will reduce the chilies in adobo, as spicy is not my thing.
Hi, this looks great! I only have boneless pork ribs right now will those work aswell?
Pork ribs will certainly cook differently and you shouldn’t need to cook them as long. But the seasonings will be delicious!
Can I refrigerate the marinated meat overnight then let it sit for an hour at room temp before putting in the oven?
One thing you will want to consider is how long it takes for it to come to room temperature. Depending on the size of your roast, it’ll take more than an hour. You want the meat to be the same temperature throughout. This will provide the most even cooking.
I just made this tonight. It made my whole house smell wonderful, and it tasted as good as it smelled. The warm spices of cloves and cinnamon weren’t overpowering and added a nice additional layer of flavor to the dish. I will definitely make this again.
Thank you Rich!! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Now I need to make it this weekend, you’ve reminded me how good it is!!
Does this need any liquid when using a Dutch oven ?
You could add a 1/2 cup to a cup of beer or stock – I wouldn’t use just water since water and the fat will just cause a mess. But no you do not have to add any liquid. As the fat melts and with the lid on, it’ll create a steam inside and those drip spots will baste the pork as it cooks. You’ll end up with a good amount of liquid and fat when it’s done. Just make sure not to peek at it and let the steam escape.